Science as Hero and Villain

First posted on the HarperCollin’s Voyager Blog

A real scientist sees and considers all the facts…whereas a bad scientist deliberately ignores the facts that don’t support his or her theory.

Lynne Lumsden Green

Bad Science. Bad science infuriates me because it is so often used by Pseudoscientists to back up their pet theories. It is easy to make statements that sound valid and appealing, without having packing evidence. However, the supporters of pseudoscience, bad scientists, turn their backs on the truth and make facts jump through hoops. By blurring the truth, they give all science a bad name, so the honest, hardworking researchers are tarred with the same brush.

Over the years, I’ve brought up this issue before on the Science Page. I’ve shown how statistics can be manipulated or misunderstood, how small sample sizes can skew a result, how biases are formed simply by how a scientist picks a topic and design her experiment. This may have given you all, my readers, the incorrect impression that most scientific research isn’t something to be admired and supported. If I have, I do apologise; Science is always working to improve the human condition, improve society, and save the planet.

This isn’t because every scientist is a selfless individual devoting themselves to the greater good (though some are exactly that sort of person). Being a scientist is like any other job … just as a plumber follows the career path suggested by his or her education interest and abilities, so do most scientists. It’s a job. Some days are good days, when the boundaries of knowledge are expanding and a theory is finally proven, and other days are a dull slog through mountains of reference reading or results. It isn’t a job that suits every one; and you have brilliant and mediocre scientists just like in any other field of human endeavour.

But even a mediocre scientist shines like a diamond when compared to a bad scientist.

You see a lot of Bad Science on the internet as well, usually sprouting up on the Internet. And Bad Science hates proper science, because it might reveal the fallacies and inaccuracies in the pseudoscience rubbish. One of the things about haters is that they only see the facts that they want to see. They will shout down anyone who disagrees with them or questions them, and they are often much louder than the real deal. This high profile means that everyone hears about it when their claims are disproved. And so, because they paraded their ‘facts’ as science, the reputation of all scientists gets a little more tarnished. (I am ignoring here the actual Luddites who won’t even accept proven scientific facts.)

So, it is time we put Science back on its pedestal and the scientific community the recognition and respect it deserves.

Personally, I’ve always felt that the ordinary, everyday scientific advances have benefited women. Who has the most to gain from plumbing? It was the women who carried the water from the wells, heated the water for laundry, cleaning, washing and bathing, and scrubbed the chamber pots after throwing away the contents. Few men were ever involved in these chores; they probably thought it built character, or kept the women too busy to gossip, or some such patriarchal bunkum. However, a clever woman is very good at making a man think he has had a good idea. Like internal plumbing or flushing toilets…

Historically, Science has been womankind’s knight in shining lab coats. These days, Science provides all sorts of toys for the girls and boys.

This article was inspired by the Australian government’s decision to no longer have a Minister for Science. I don’t like to get too political, but I think that is quite a frightening step backwards for our clever country. It is up to us to keep Australia a clever country.

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Filed under Opinion Piece, Science, Uncategorized, Women in Science

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